The Colts aren't the same team without Reggie Wayne.
In the five games since Wayne tore his right ACL against the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis is averaging 19.6 points. In the seven games Wayne played, the Colts averaged 26.7 points.
The offensive line has failed to protect quarterback Andrew Luck. T.Y. Hilton, the new No. 1 receiver, is adjusting to being double teamed, and the other receivers haven't made up the difference.
Indy's offense hit rock-bottom in a 38-8 loss to St. Louis on Nov. 10 and a 40-11 loss at Arizona on Nov. 24.
Though the group hasn't looked like the one that derailed Denver earlier this season, Indianapolis has won three of five since Wayne's injury, and the Colts (8-4) can wrap up the AFC South title with a victory Sunday at Cincinnati.
"As of late, we've been like the Rocky Balboa of the National Football League," Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We get bloodied up, but we find a way to finish on top."
It's questionable whether that approach will work in the playoffs. The Colts have been particularly bad in the first half. In the five games without Wayne, Indianapolis has scored 24 points before halftime. The Colts have scored 75 points after the break in those games.
"We have our moments where we're hot and we're able to move the ball and we're able to score touchdowns," Hamilton said. "We've got to make it a point of emphasis, as we always have, to find a way to get started a lot faster."
Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was supposed to fill some of Wayne's productivity, has struggled with drops. Despite starting four of five games since Wayne's injury, Heyward-Bey has just nine catches for 96 yards during that stretch.
Heyward-Bey's troubles are starting to affect Hilton's production. In the first two games after Wayne's injury, Hilton caught 14 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. In the next three games, he caught 15 passes for 128 yards and no scores. With no other viable outside threat, teams are more focused on Hilton.
"T.Y. is still a very effective receiver for us," Hamilton said. "They've started to double-team him more. I've got to do a better job of moving T.Y. around and making sure we find creative ways to get him in space."
Luck has tried to compensate for Wayne's absence at times by holding the ball too long. He has been sacked 14 times in the past five games after being sacked 15 times in the first seven.
Before Wayne's injury, Luck was completing 61 percent of his passes and had 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions. Since the injury, he's completing 55 percent with five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Luck accepts his share of the blame for the way the offense has played.
"Oh yeah, I make my fair share of mistakes," Luck said. "It might not be as obvious to the common fan. Drops happen. Holdings happen. Pass interference happens. Not that it's ever excusable, but it's part of human error, part of playing any sport and doing anything I think."
The running game has struggled so much that the Colts finally made Donald Brown the starting running back over Trent Richardson this past Sunday.
Even with all the criticism, the Colts are coming off a 22-14 win over the Titans that put them in control of the AFC South. The Colts didn't score a touchdown against the Titans until Brown reached the end zone with 1:56 remaining, yet they were in position to win.
"Again, we're never going to apologize for winning no matter how you get it done," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Ugly, whatever you want to call it, a win is a win. It was critical. We all know the magnitude of that ball game. It was a game we had to get the win and get it done."
Brown's late touchdown run against Tennessee capped an 11-play, 92-yard drive and left the Titans in desperation mode. It was a preview of what the Colts hope to accomplish for the rest of the season.
"When you look at it, by the time you get to the fourth quarter of games, defenses are worn down a bit," Hamilton said. "That's what we're built for. We're built for the fourth quarter of the football season where defenses are tired and worn and playing with guys that are a bit hobbled and it's not as easy to take on double team blocks. That's our formula."
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